Review: Werewolf: The Apocalypse Earthblood – Sound and Fury

I’m beginning to believe that there is a curse which is somehow associated with the White Wolf “World Of Darkness” metaverse and game developers. When you look at the track record of the games which have come out or have been announced, it’s pretty dismal. Up to this point, it’s been mostly centered around Vampire: The Masquerade. But Cyanide Studio’s attempt with Werewolf: The Apocalypse is making me think there’s some dark conspiracy or profane enchantment which makes these projects encounter terrible difficulties. The simpler answer, though, would be that it’s basically a bad game.

WtA: Earthblood puts players in the shoes of Cahal, one of the Garou, a werewolf whose overriding duty is to protect Gaia from destruction by the Wyrm, the incarnation of entropy and decay. In ancient times, the Garou were responsible for keeping the human population from getting too big. By the present day, they’re fighting a losing battle to preserve the environment and the spirits which reside in it from being destroyed by major corporate conglomerates. The tutorial mission sets up the basic premise of the game’s plot. During an infiltration of energy megacorp Endron, Cahal runs into one of the Garou’s ancient enemies, a Black Spiral Dancer. Watching his wife murdered in front of him, Cahal snaps, killing the Dancer before turning on his allies in a berserk frenzy. After coming down off his rage fueled rampage, Cahal goes into exile, returning five years later when Endron once again threatens his friends and family with a new secret project codenamed “Earthblood.” It’s up to Cahal to sneak, smooth talk, and slaughter his way through a number of missions to discover the secret of the Earthblood Protocol, and maybe redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter and his comrades.

“What is your wisdom, oh noble spirit of the forest?”
“We deserved to be in a better game.”

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Earthblood is not an RPG. It’s a beat’em up with stealth elements and some character interactions, centered around a single protagonist. This particular formula isn’t automatically a sign that the game is going to be bad. But the fact the mechanics don’t make any particular effort to integrate the established elements of the setting or the original tabletop system diminishes the potential enjoyment. Worse, it’s part and parcel of the developer’s apparent disdain of the setting.

Cyanide’s decision to use the Unreal Engine was unquestionably the smartest one they made. However, it’s apparent that Cyanide’s mastery over the engine is somewhat uneven. There are visual elements which are excellently done, such as the “Penumbra Vision” effect to let you see spirits and enemy status, as well as the spirit patrons of the Garou caerns you visit. But there are other elements such as some of the weapon models and character models which have a certain roughness to them, a sense of sloppiness, that catches the eye in such a way as to spoil the tone of cinematics. Combine this with some odd collision detection issues, and you start thinking that this particular project was rather slapdash on the visual side, even with the impressive work that does shine through.

“You mean I’m leaving this game early? Oh thank Gaia!”

Earthblood‘s sound work is, to put it bluntly, uninspiring. There are no character refrains or sweeping orchestral songs to be heard here. Just one painfully bland song when sneaking around or just walking, one equally bland pseudo-metal song for combat, and a few pieces on the cinematics that are so goddamned forgettable it’s a miracle they can even be mentioned, plus a couple more pseudo-metal songs for the title screen and end credits. The voice work is uneven, with some actors turning a decent if workman-like performance, and some just being so goddawful you don’t know what you ought to be feeling. The villains project no menace and the heroes project no pathos. Not even the actor who’s playing Cahal feels like he’s got any serious emotional investment. It’s paycheck performances all around. There’s no heft anywhere.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the gameplay in Earthblood has been done before and it has been done so much better. You have hit multipliers that don’t seem to do a lot for you, and certainly don’t lead to significant XP gains like you’d find in the Rocksteady Arkham series. You have level design which ostensibly encourages different paths and tactical approaches, but all too often puts players in a kill box, not to mention seems to be poorly executed when it comes to making sensible paths or providing consumable items. The stealth mechanics are patchy and seem to make it so one encounter in four will get blown the first time you try to take out an inept guard. More damning, for about 80% of the game, you can jump off cliffs and tall buildings without even turning a hair. But then the finale decides that you can’t swim and kills you if you get knocked off a platform into the ocean. The power/perk selection is painfully limited, and past a certain point, renders any sort of serious strategy outside of the boss fights irrelevant. The narrative flow is deeply uneven, and actually penalizes the player in the second act for following the main story without even a prompt to perhaps go back to the caern for a chat with NPCs. That point stings a hell of a lot considering the first act reminded you fairly smoothly to do the same thing. And the entire game can be burned through in a day if you’re not terribly particular about getting 100% completion.

“Yes, I’m wearing a sheepherder’s jacket. Twilight ruined shirtless werewolves forever. Let me ruin this!”

But the final, absolutely unforgivable, insult from Earthblood is the undisguised contempt and disregard for the tabletop setting it is allegedly adapting. Somebody negotiated a contract to license the IP and their hard work in those negotiations has been so utterly wasted, I’m unironically enraged. Before this, I thought Cyberpunk 2077 would hold the uncontested crown for a video game shitting on its source material. But it seems Cyanide has said, “Hold my beer,” and actually managed to treat its underlying source material in a worse fashion. There are vague and passing references to the other tribes from the tabletop game, but it doesn’t make any sort of serious effort to explore the source material. It has a grotesquely insensitive perspective not just for the source material but the inspirations which led to the source material’s creation. Instead of nuanced examinations of individuals within a given culture (which is effectively what a tribe would be in the tabletop game), we get caricatures which feel vaguely racist, ignoring the source material for whatever the writers thought would be “cool.” The total lack of fucks given is utterly infuriating.

Even worse, it fails to deliver on the horror aspect of the game. This is supposed to be “World of Darkness,” not “World of Vaguely Dimmer Than Our World.”  The level of gore is not something which gives a sense of dread, or makes us ask ourselves if we’re maybe going a little overboard with our level of force. It’s wall dressing, and it’s not even particularly artistic wall dressing. The body horror angle of the fomori is quite simply toothless. The stakes are cartoonishly low, yet we’re supposed to believe that this is super important, you guys! Instead of trying to stave off Ragnarok for another day or possibly finding ways to cushion the titular apocalypse, we get a painfully basic “family revenge” plot, and the writers managed to even screw that up.

“What, you expected a manifestation of ancient evil, soaked in physical and spiritual hard radiation? Nah, I’m Lon Chaney’s dumber cousin.”

There isn’t a single redeeming feature to be found in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood. From questionable visual quality to insultingly awful writing, you would be hard pressed to find a game which is a more wasteful offering. It’s not quite a crime against Nature, but you’ll likely be weeping for the senseless exploitation of innocent plastic and blameless bits which were used to make this project.

This review was based off a copy of the game purchased by the writer.

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